Fri, Dec 21, 2018 - Page 8 News List

State violence cannot be forgiven

By Lin Tai-ho 林泰和

In Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, German philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote that when state crime is concerned, “the degree of responsibility increases as we draw further away from the man who uses the fatal instrument with his own hands.”

In other words, the wrongdoing committed by an entry-level member of law enforcement is far less than that committed by higher authorities who issue direct orders.

However, Arendt also stressed that “politics is not like the nursery; in politics obedience and support are the same.”

Germany is perhaps the best example of the unforgivable nature of state violence and the implementation of transitional justice. In February 1989, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, 27-year-old East German soldier Ingo Heinrich shot and killed Chris Gueffroy as he tried to climb the wall, making him the last person killed trying to do so.

In February 1992, following the unification of East and West Germany, Heinrich was given a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence without parole by a Berlin court. Heinrich’s defense insisted that he followed legitimate orders of a sovereign state, but Judge Theodor Seidel said that Heinrich followed orders, which was understandable, but he “did not just fire bad shots randomly. It was an aimed shot tantamount to an execution.”

Seidel also said that in addition to the law, there is conscience, and that when the law and conscience conflict, conscience is the highest standard,” and that while Heinrich and his codefendants were “at the end of a long chain of responsibility ... not everything that is legal is right.”

In 2015, Oscar Groening, a former guard at Auschwitz, was sentenced to four years in prison by a German court for being an accessory to murder in 300,000 cases. Last year, the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled that Groening’s age, 96, was not a valid reason for him not to be sent to prison.

To thoroughly carry out transitional justice following the end of World War II and the unification of Germany, the nation has not forgiven the criminals who executed state violence.

The positive significance of the unforgivable nature of the ROC’s state terrorism is that the unforgivable nature of state violence can be used to avoid unforgivable evil. The unforgivable nature of state violence reaches beyond any political or judicial system and becomes a means to make politicians understand that an unforgivable state crime must not be forgiven and made part of political calculations, or trades, or the legal system.

While the law is a general principle, justice is a specific principle. Justice always overrides the law and transitional justice involves the life, circumstances and dignity of every person affected by the White Terror era. This is why carrying out transitional justice — especially in Taiwan — must not involve forgiving violence of the past.

Tragically, according to the current political and social setting, it will not be possible to truly put authoritarianism in the past. The best proof that there is still a long and arduous way to go before transitional justice can be realized is the politicians who continue to pay their respects at the Cihu Mausoleum.

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